War Brides (1916)

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Alla Nazimova had been presented with motion picture contracts before, but she turned them down until Lewis J. Selznik offered to shoot a film version of this one-act play by Marion Craig Wentworth. The stage star had been successfully performing in it on Broadway and on the road for many months, and a lucrative deal was struck. Nazimova insisted that Charles Bryant (her partner in business and love) and Gertrude Berkeley repeat their stage roles for the screen, and she also got young Richard Barthelmess, then merely a college student, his very first film role. Joan (Nazimova) lives in a village in an unnamed European country during war time. She loses two brothers-in-law, and then her husband, Franz (Bryant), in the fighting. When the king (Alex Shannon) rules that women must bear more children for future wars, Joan organizes a protest and finds an ally in her mother-in-law (Berkeley). The story ends with Joan killing herself and her unborn child in lieu of following the king's edict. Like many stage actors, Nazimova was guilty of too many histrionics her first time before a camera, but her acting style would be refined in time (though perhaps never refined enough for modern day tastes). This picture ran in New York for several months and was put in general release in April, 1917. A month later, America entered World War I, making its pacifist theme extremely unpopular. Undaunted, Selznik pulled the film and inserted new titles which set the story in Germany, then sent the film right back out to theaters, where it continued to make money.